At something of a loose end on Boxing Day, I decided to run through a relatively quick solitaire game using the 15mm miniatures that happened to be at the top of a stack of storage boxes. Thus a typically ahistorical encounter, for an Ancients wargamer, between Normans and Parthians…
The battle unfolded in three distinct phases. The Normans (ie me!) deployed with a small hill on either wing occupied by their knights, while archers and spearmen occupied the low ground in between. The Parthians formed up in an obvious fashion, horse archers in front and cataphracts behind them, though some of the horse archers were detached with the aim of trying to outflank the Norman left.
The Parthians advanced, the detached horse archers seeking to probe around the Norman left flank as ordered. The Parthian intention was to use the main body of horse archers to break up the opposing Norman archers, while the detached elements at least kept the Norman knights on that flank entertained, so that the cataphracts would then be able to rumble through the centre and trample the Norman spearmen beneath their hooves. Things did not go according to plan.
The Norman archers put up stiffer resistance than had been expected. The Parthian horse archers were also shaken by the knights on the Norman right charging downhill at them. They withdrew in some haste, and the Parthian general busied himself with reorganising his forces for another effort. This was the second (and rather quiet) phase, as the cataphracts shifted across to mass on the Parthian left wing. Meanwhile, the knights on the Norman left wheeled to face and counter the approach of those cheeky Parthian horse archers who were trying to sneak past them.
The third and final phase of the action saw the Normans suddenly become more proactive. There were all-out cavalry melees as knights clashed with cataphracts on one wing, and with horse archers on the other; while in the centre the Norman bowmen, having been whittled down somewhat by the Parthian horse archers’ persistent shooting, pulled back and allowed the spears to make an aggressive move towards the Parthian line. This belated infantry advance would have been futile as an attempt to catch light cavalry, of course, but it did force the horse archers to evade back in their turn and thus provided useful support for the knights, particularly those on the Norman right who were hard pressed in a fight with the cataphracts and in some danger of being overwhelmed.
At this point, the Norman general was relieved by nightfall and a decision by the Parthian command to withdraw from the battle under cover of darkness, leaving the Norman army bloodied but still holding their position.